“L.A. is one of the most opportunistic cultures in the world.”- Chris Hayes
Chris Hayes is a fellow Wake Forest alum, fraternity brother of TANY Sports, and actor on the verge out in L.A. While our paths never crossed at school, I had the pleasure of meeting him at SXSW last month.
During a long night of bar hopping in and around W.6th street, I took the opportunity to discuss with Chris his experiences breaking into the acting world.
Here’s his official rundown:
Combine a quarter cup Bradley Cooper, a few tablespoons Sean William Scott and a dash of Christian Bale and you have Chris Hayes. An aspiring actor, writer and entrepreneur, Chris constantly has projects percolating. He is in two films coming out this year, a lead role in the independent feature “The Loneliest Road in America”, and a role in the upcoming Jamie-Lynn Sigler/Josh Stewart film “Wake.”
First off, what got you interested in acting?
This is a point of contention between my family and I. They say I wanted to be an actor as soon as I saw “Top Gun.” I think I just wanted to fly planes. More likely it was in 8th grade when I wanted to be the lead in our middle school’s production of Romeo and Juliet purely so I could kiss the girl who was playing Juliet. However, there was one snag: I was a chubby little troll. Not exactly “Romeo” material. So I got Mercutio instead. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. He’s the best role in the play, really hilarious writing. I had a lot of fun, got tons of praise and decided I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing it.
L.A. is the logical choice for an aspiring actor. What kind of feelings went through your head about that move?
I was always going to move there. It was inevitable in my mind. Luckily, I was brought up by two amazing parents who instilled a need for education so college came first. I went to a phenomenal liberal arts school called Wake Forest in Winston-Salem, NC where I majored in Economics, Spanish and Theatre. Not to mention, I joined a fraternity and got to study abroad in Australia and Spain for several months. All of these elements helped mold who I am today and gave me the proper knowledge and time to get a game-plan together for my inevitable move west.
From what I’ve read and heard, the film industry can be brutal. Did you have a plan in mind once you got there?
I moved to L.A. with the mindset that my career is a marathon, not a sprint. So there was never any need to rush anything. I figured, I have one go-around with this thing, better not make any rash moves. So getting a job was first and foremost. I already had opportunities percolating because I knew, even at Wake Forest, that I had neither the desire nor the patience to be a waiter or a bartender. I had gotten certified and started working as a personal trainer in school, so when I came out here I interviewed at Equinox and was hired on the spot.
I had a job, a house in Beverly Hills with three of my best friends from back in New Jersey, and a hunger to make big things happen out here. I knew I needed to learn a lot more before I dove in, so I started taking acting classes. Scene Study, Technique, Improvisation, Commercial, as many as I could. I found my way into a phenomenal acting community, The Brad Henke Studio, with some of the most talented actors I have ever seen. I’ve been there since I moved out.
Can you tell us about the ambition ratio?
L.A. is one of the most opportunistic cultures in the world. The ambition is palpable. People move here from every part of the world to realize their dreams, and not just in the film industry. I have good friends who are architects, graphic designers, personal trainers, and lawyers who all have grand expectations for their careers and their ambition is directly proportional to their talent. You realize quickly who is worth their weight and you surround yourself with those kinds of people. They’re an inspiration to me. Their ambition reflects off your own and motivates you to not just wait and “expect results,” but to actively pursue them and fight for what you want.
Switching gears, was this your first time in Austin?
I came to Austin 2 years ago for the music portion of SXSW.
What did you think of our city then?
I thought it was incredible! I stepped off the plane and there’s a band playing. It’s this cosmopolitan cityscape that feels really intimate. The people, in all their eclectic varieties, have a common pleasantness; it’s really welcoming. Sixth street, The Drag, Lake Austin, the Alamo Drafthouse, any movie theater where I can get a pizza and a beer is high on my list!
Tell us about your new movie, “Wake“?
It’s a really cool psychological thriller about a couple driving from Texas to Los Angeles for a wedding. They stop at an eerie motel where the peculiar residents know a little bit too much about the protagonists.
How did you get involved with the movie?
I started out as a “reader” for the casting sessions; I would read sides with the actors when they came to audition for their respective roles. That’s how I met Chad (the director), Amanda and Lea-Beth (producers), and Deanna (casting director). They were really sweet to me and I learned so much about the casting process.
Near the end of casting, they had a couple roles to fill for Paul’s fraternity brothers. They thought I was too nice to play one of these unsavory characters, so I just started shoving the office intern into a locker every morning until they gave me a part. But no, seriously, it was just persistence. I just kept begging for an audition, hoping they found my desperate willingness charming. I auditioned and booked the job and got to travel to the middle of the desert to film one of the coolest segments in the whole movie.
Who inspires your professionally?
It’s hard to answer without sounding pretentious. I’m intrigued by actors with versatility. They can transition from comedy to more serious roles seamlessly: Tom Hanks, Michael J. Fox, Edward Norton, Annette Benning, and Julianne Moore. Also actors who choose challenging projects that go against the grain. Leonardo DiCaprio comes to mind. He had this path laid out for him to be a cutesy teen superstar, but chose projects like “Basketball Diaries” and “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape” instead.
Lastly, if you could go back to when you first arrived in L.A., what advice would you give yourself?
You’re only as good as the people you surround yourself with. You can be the most ambitious, motivated hustler and never realize your potential when apathetic people surround you. Be persistent. Don’t rely on others to do it for you These qualities will attract the right types of people into your life. You will feed off their energy and they yours. Be kind to those you meet, this is an incredibly small town teeming with talent ready to break out. And always remember, you’re here to do what you love, and not just ostensibly so. So…do what you love! There’s so much diversity and energy. I love being insulated and protected by a huge city.
In the end, the life you live is yours and no one else’s, so treat it as such!
Chris was born in San Antonio, TX, raised in 8 different states, mostly New Jersey and currently resides in Santa Monica, CA.
Contact him at:
Pursuing your passion and turning it into a career is the American dream. In this interview, Zach Nellian, tattoo artist and businessman, shares his life and what drives him.
Could you fill readers in on your background?
My name is Zach Nelligan. I’m 26 years old and a life-long resident of Austin, TX. I’m a tattooer and I work at Triple Crown Tattoo Parlour. I have a BFA in Studio Art from the University of Texas at Austin. Note of interest for people that might care: AJ and I have been friends since the 3rd grade, and he’s always been a top notch dude. Thank you so much for taking me into consideration for this.
It was at some point later in college. I had been getting tattooed since I was 18, and they steadily got bigger and better. I began researching the art and profession more and more.
Austin has a huge tattoo scene. Just about everybody here is tattooed and we have one of the highest per capita counts of shops. Some of the world’s finest tattooers work here and there are more and more everyday. It’s very tough and competitive, but unlike other cities, there isn’t too much drama between shops. As far as breaking in and making a name for myself, I’ve just done what I always do: be as nice and genuine of a person as I can be, while working as hard as I can and constantly keeping up with my clients as far as communication and updates of my online and physical portfolios.
I prefer to do primarily old school, traditional designs or subjects that evoke a vintage nostalgia. I do bright, clean, bold tattoos that will hold up over time instead of super delicate, rendered, soft tattoos that will blur and fade quickly.
If that’s what you really want, I will gladly do it!
Bring ’em on! I’m also here to get paid, haha.
I do a lot of weird tattoos. It’s a niche I’ve broken into. See the answer above, and I also did a skull eating a @#$%&# in this dude’s armpit. That was an interesting challenge.
Anything vintage or nostalgic, and also my clients’ ideas. Old clip art, ads, tattoo designs, objects, etc. I have a lot of reference material.
What’s your approach to attracting customers? Any networking involved?
My business is primarily word of mouth. If I’m kind and attentive to my customers and give them a nice tattoo worthy of being proud of, then they will pass my information along. Besides that, the internet is huge. I have a web site, Myspace, and Facebook for that.
It’s a huge part of it. I’d say half of my business comes from the internet, especially with Myspace, Facebook, and Yelp. That’s where everybody turns to for everything now, so you have to participate and take advantage of its possibilities. I try to keep all my stuff online as up to date as possible.
I’ve had my site and profiles since I was an apprentice. I guess about five years now.
There’s no place to stop advancing. It’s a natural thing to just want to get better at your craft, and it happens exponentially. Especially now that tattooers and artists are getting better and better at younger and younger ages, it’s really important to always be on your toes.
Personal growth primarily. I don’t want to short change my potential or my customers with work that isn’t striving to be the best I can possibly strive to produce.
“Being in the mindset of a freelancer, you have to hustle constantly, and being around others becomes infectious.”
The other day I spoke with a friend from high school (Go Jags), Jonathan Allen. A freelance photographer, Jonathan is steadily increasing his body of work on the local and national level. In this first interview of 2010, Jonathan talks about the joys of freelancing, Craigslist ads, networking, skill-building, career uncertainty and staying focused.
Bio: Jonathan Allen
I was born and raised here in Austin. I’ve actually never left. I guess I’m part of a rare breed now, as people constantly point out to me. After graduating high school here in 2001, I went to UT for a couple years studying various things, and ended up taking photography courses at ACC. I studied there for almost four years before breaking off into the field in 2006.
When did you first know you were interested in photography as a profession?
When I took my first photography class at UT, it really was just a minor interest for me, and my primary motivation for taking the class was to use my camera and compare the quality of my work against others. I did pretty well in the class and really enjoyed the act of using my camera. I was also really bored with my other studies and kind of fed up with the big university mentality. That style of learning just wasn’t for me.
I learned that ACC had a great photography program, and I had been tinkering with the idea of leaving UT; so I quit and enrolled in classes at ACC, which I thought at the time would be temporary. I spent the next three and a half years immersed in classes in the photography department. I took every class I could sign up for, and worked on every area of my technical skills that I could. It was through my many great teachers that I learned exactly what could be achieved with photography as a profession. By the time I was done with school there, I had a really good idea of what steps I would need to take to achieve my goals.
What was the process you took to arrive where you are today?
The first step was the academic part. Again, I took every class I could and tried to make the absolute most out of the education I was provided. After that, I decided I wanted to assist other photographers in the field, which is generally one of the steps to becoming a photographer. It pays pretty well, and you learn a ton of skills not provided in a formal education. It’s very much a trade, and a lot of the craft is learned from someone who is a working professional. In order to start assisting, I emailed every photographer I could in Austin to see if they had any work available. I got a few hits and worked some one off jobs.
I had two good friends who were working assistants at the time, and they referred lots of work to me. One of those referrals landed me as a regular assisting with someone I still work with today. I also responded to one Craigslist ad I saw with my resume, which turned out to be an absolutely lucky find, because it’s turned into friendships with two great people who’ve helped me out in many ways and taught me a lot. That ad eventually turned into an extremely profitable client which allows me to this day to travel to Chicago and a few other great cities regularly. For the record, I generally loathe craigslist for jobs postings because people offer way too little compensation, and it’s also very clogged up with people responding. But, I did get very lucky with that one find, so I guess it’s not all bad.
Did you have any mentors along the way?
Several of them. A couple of my friends, Brandon Barron and Lance Holt, who I went to school with, and who helped me become a good assistant. Casey Dunn, an architectural photographer who’s become a good friend and the person I still work with regularly. He’s taught me a lot about technique and attention to detail, loaned me his equipment when I needed it, and helped with the retouching and business side of the field.
He’s also hooked me up with some local clients that I still shoot with on occasion. Angie West, who was one of the girls I met through the Craigslist connection. I worked with her briefly in Austin, and then she moved to Chicago to take over as marketing director for an upscale furniture company. I helped her with retouching a giant catalogue for them, which transitioned into me helping her with photo shoots, which turned into me taking over as photographer for a portion of them when she moved into another department. We still work together regularly, and help each other out.
How did you arrive at Public School?
At the end of 2007, Casey was sharing a studio with a friend who was running an art gallery out of it. His friend decided to leave, so Casey wanted to find others to move into the studio with him to share rent. I was doing a ton of retouching at the time, and I loathed working from home. So I moved in along with a couple others. Eventually we expanded, others came in and left, we consolidated, it finally got to the correct number of people who were all interested in working together in a kind of shared space. We tinkered with the idea of being a co-op, and eventually the name Public School was thrown out earlier this year.
The branding came shortly after, we setup a blog, and it really took off. Now it’s a pretty well known collective, and we get thousands of hits on the web site each month. We moved into a new studio space last June, which has become a really great work environment.
Y’all are located on Austin’s Eastside, right? That seems to be the creative hub in town.
It’s a great place to be — I love working out of a studio in such a great location. I’m able to walk to lunch or to pick up coffee. And it’s a great place to have clients over. We throw networking parties fairly regularly at our place, and the turn out is always really great.
Can you describe how the collective is set up? (Ex. Formalized agreement)
We really have no formal agreements. It’s just a space where a bunch of friends can work together, collaborate on occasion, and help each other out with their work. Bounce ideas around. It’s also a really cheap way to have office space. We are trying to become more formal with the way we work, and we’re starting to have regular meetings to come up with ideas for ways to push and promote our collective better.
What kind of support and expectations does Public School have?
We really want everyone to be working on their own projects regularly and be working a freelance career. Being in the mindset of a freelancer, you have to hustle constantly, and being around others becomes infectious. When other people I’m working side by side with are doing things like networking, promoting themselves, updating their web site with new work, blogging, etc., it makes me want to do all that stuff as well as I don’t want to get left behind.
What’s been one of the most rewarding experiences you’ve had as a photographer?
I’ve love being able to travel for work. I get to go to Chicago pretty regularly to shoot, and have met some great friends up there and experienced one of the most amazing cities. At times it feels like I’ve lived there. I’ve also been to Miami, New York, Aspen, Ruidoso, Omaha, and some smaller places close by. It can be really hard work and stressful at times, but it’s still the best! I was also really excited the first time I saw photographs I shot printed in a magazine. And the first cover I got… what a rush! Lastly, hanging my work on a wall. So much of my work is viewed on a screen these days, that when I actually get a chance to print it, frame it and hang it, it’s really amazing.
Can you describe a moment of uncertainty in the path you had chosen?
Right after school, I got a job as a retoucher in a local photographer’s studio. I became extremely bored with it and quit after six months, deciding I wanted to start assisting. It was really slow at first, and I was really broke for awhile. I was having a hard time getting by living at my parents house, so I was worried about how things were going to pan out. But, things picked up slowly and I started making money regularly and it was starting to work out. Nevertheless, to this day I still become uncertain about my future every once in awhile. Working a freelance career is always uncertain, especially in a field that is so competitive, and sometimes you worry about where your next check will come from. Still, I got over it, as there is no way I could go back to having a regular job!
Alternatively what about a moment when you felt you were moving in the right direction?
When I started doing my first gigs as a photographer. I often got really bored on photo shoots as an assistant, but when I’m the working photographer, time races by, and I get in the zone and work really, really hard. It’s such a great feeling. Plus the paycheck are much larger, so it’s much more of a confidence booster. It’s really nice not to have scrape by.
How important has networking been for you?
Easily the most important part of the work, in my experience. Unfortunately, I’m not the best at it, but I’m trying more and more each day, and becoming much better. Every job I’ve done that I can think of has been through some connection, at least the first opportunity to work with someone. The repeat work comes with being good and delivering according to their expectations. I’m currently in the midst of trying to retool myself and tie up loose ends to, hopefully, hit the pavement hard in the coming months. I’m simultaneously terrified and excited at the possibilities.
Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, and 20 years?
I’d like to be at the top of the Austin market in the next five years. I’m really banking on the fact that Austin’s growth will provide a much better photo market over time. Right now, it’s not the greatest city to be in to be shooting great work. But I love living here, and would be happy enough shooting smaller jobs if I could live comfortably. Within the next 10 years, I want to be shooting on a national level, higher profile stuff — possibly be living in a larger city. Twenty years is pretty far off, but I’d love to have a well established name. Have my work carried throughout various galleries. And to still be making money off photography.
What keeps you hungry?
The thought of being the best. That’s my ultimate goal, I believe. I want to produce work of the same caliber as the great photographers of our time! Also the thought of failing and having to get a real job. I just don’t see myself as being able to work on a regular schedule that I don’t make. I love having my time be my time, and the ability to use it for whatever I want.
Definitely. Thanks for sharing. Best of luck in 2010!
I’ve been on Jade about this interview for a while. She’s an ambitious individual, and like many of us trying to rise-up. I didn’t know her at Wake Forest too well, and only reconnected over the last two years. Since then though, she has continuously impressed and inspired me.
I present Jade Holmes.
My parents always stressed the value and importance of a work-life balance. They worked hard while seeing us off to school everyday, attending all of our extracurricular activities, and eating family dinner every night. Not a day went by where I wasn’t told that I was loved and capable of achieving anything. My family is my biggest support system, and it’s huge!
I grew up very close to most of my family in Prince George’s County, MD, which in addition to being a suburb of Washington, DC, is also the home of a large concentration of upper middle to upper class black families. Because of this, from an early age, I was always very in tune with the diversity within the Black community.
I saw the spectrum of careers and incomes and complexions, so I didn’t allow the media to define for me what black was; I saw it firsthand. I’ve also lived in Philadelphia, Winston-Salem, Atlanta and Boston.
While I didn’t appreciate going to private schools at the time; looking back, my mix of public and private school education was a rich experience that allowed me to befriend people from different backgrounds while also developing a greater appreciation for my culture. I remember actually teaching black history to my middle school classmates, and in high school choreographing dances and writing plays for Black History month. I loved expressing this aspect of myself artistically.
I think it goes without say that being black is a major part of my identity, but I don’t see this as something that limits me. Instead it motivates me to portray in the media, the multi- facetedness that I know exists.
I’m a believer in God, love, service, optimism and change.
When did you become interested in film?
I’ve always been an artist. From dancing to piano to photography, almost every hobby of mine did, and still does involve art.
When I first went to Wake Forest, I wanted to get into advertising field, specifically commercials. I think somewhere between the exciting lifestyle portrayed in movies and the lack of varied images I witnessed on TV, I thought I could find a career there.
During junior year, Eric Watts, my advisor, suggested that I think about a film studies minor so I could learn all of the aspects behind making commercials. I took one class and immediately fell in love.
There was something special about stories and events that could be captured, lived and retold through the medium of film and that attracted me. Making films, which is essentially storytelling, for me is very similar to choreography. In both I weave different aspects together which come out as one varied experience for each viewer— my idea of universal.
What led you to Boston University’s Film School?
After graduating from Wake Forest with a new passion for film, I wanted to learn everything I could about the film-making industry. I moved to Atlanta to intern at Rainforest Films (Stomp The Yard, This Christmas, Obsessed). Throughout my time at the company, I was able to work closely with everyone at the company which taught me everything about the creative side of film.
During my year in Atlanta I applied to multiple programs, but most wanted me to make more films before accepting me. I needed to learn, not hone and BU embraced my infancy. I wanted to go to a school that taught me how to make films so I could learn trial and error with the support and resources to immediately pick up and try again.
I really liked the freedom their Master of Fine Arts program, its community atmosphere and Alumni base at the College of Communication, and Boston. There were so many places to photograph! Also, with one of its nicknames being the ”City of Academia, ” I knew the city would provide opportunities to learn from, and network and with a lot of brilliant minds.
How was working for Tyler Perry?
Working at Tyler Perry Studios was a great learning experience. I was in Atlanta, which is now a mecca for black film. I worked with a lot of creative media makers and I learned the technical aspects of how a major studio ran.
Working at both Tyler Perry Studios, and Rainforest Films, I learned that film-making is 75% passion. Both companies began from the ground up and devoted to telling stories involving underrepresented groups.
I would later learn that the other is 25% is who you know. (Some may argue this percentage).
It’s difficult, even in a good economy, to break into the film industry. What has been your experience in current economic downtown?
Well film-making is definitely not for the weak at heart, so as an emerging filmmaker, I can’t really tell if it’s the recession or the hazing process that is making funding so difficult!
For my thesis (most recent) film, I sent out a fundraising letter to EVERYONE I knew and asked for a minimum donation. The love poured! Being a student with 501c(3) status didn’t hurt.
For my next film, I don’t think I will be so lucky. Everyday I look for investors, you really have to be creative with how you seek funding. While a lot of organizations have suspended their programs there are still a ton out there looking for a project to support.
And you want direct?
Yes. I just finished my thesis film, required for the Master of Fine Arts degree designed to demonstrate my professional competence as a filmmaker.
Tell me about the film you just wrapped.
My short film (it’s about 25 minutes long), Three Blind Mice, is an original story I wrote, set in Washington, DC. The story is about three Black men who literally and figuratively travel the same path during the course of one day and deals with individuality in the midst of stereotypes.
I always wanted to tell this story so I really enjoyed watching it come to life. I love working with actors and the leads, Dorian Missick, Al Thompson and Gavin-Keith Umeh made my job so much fun. It premieres this February in DC and will hopefully screen nationally at different festivals.
I like the creative aspect of writing and directing and the technical aspect of producing. I always considered myself a producer-director, but making this film made me realize that I cannot devote myself 100% to each position. So for now, while I’m still open development and producing opportunities, I’ve decided to focus on directing.
How important has networking been for you? Can you elaborate on specific moments?
Networking is incredibly important in film-making. As I mentioned earlier, the industry is at least 25% who you know. Each stepping stone in my career has been because of networking. My last film was entirely built on networking. However, because I move around so much, networking has been difficult. Film-making is sort of out of sight/out of mind, so if you don’t keep up, you will be left out.
My goal for 2010, now that the film is done, is reconnecting with school contacts that I have neglected.
Who inspires you?
Being a woman inspires me. Being a young adult inspires me. Being from DC inspires me. The faith others have in me inspires me. The faith I have in myself inspires me. In terms of who, other than my family, my inspiration is constantly changing. Recently, I was inspired by all of the little girls in tiaras and dresses at Disney’s premiere of “The Princess and The Frog”. This film experience, like the films I hope to make, was a simple story, with a simple message, but what it meant/represented was priceless. Some of those little girls left dreaming bigger because they saw someone who looked like them in a positive major role, similar to the Obama effect, and it reminded me of why I make films. I just watched “March of the Penguins”, so who knows how I will be inspired tomorrow!
Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, and 20 years?
I always fear this question because for me things usually happen at a different time than what I plan, so here are my goals.
In 5 years, being married with at least one child would be a blessing! I would also love to have made two feature films, one narrative and one documentary, and have a major role in both a recognizable non-profit and production company.
In 10 years, an (any) award for filmmaking, more movies, more causes, more kids.
20: I’m not sure if I will ever retire but I would love to go back and teach filmmaking at Wake, Howard and BU. I also plan to never stop dancing.
What keeps you hungry to get there?
”The love of the game!” I really enjoy what I do and knowing that I am a few steps away makes me want to get to a level of national recognition so my stories can be told.
Also, I would really like to give back to my parents in some form for everything they do for me. They never questioned my dream or my talent, but always worked we me to figure out how to get where I wanted to be. They are always proud but I know they would love to go on a few all expense paid vacations and an awards show or two!
Authentic Jade tells stories that are diverse, socially relevant and content driven. I’m not married to a specific type of media, but I want to teach, inspire and/or foster dialogue with every film. A Jade Holmes project is one that takes creative risks to tell simple stories in a different way: vital stories, artfully told. After studying film in Sydney, Australia, I learned that film is a universal bridge among cultures and I would love for my work to be apart of that bridge.
Thanks for sharing!
Read more about what Jade’s up to here.
While many of us probably aren’t aspiring hip-hop artists, you can definitely relate to his underlying drive to rise in his field.
Here are a few excerpts:
The Roc Nation Deal.
It gets tougher. Some artists get a deal and put their feet up thinking they’ve made it. But that’s how you get caught up. A deal was never the goal for me, it was just a step. A hard step to get to, but never the end result. My end result is still much greater. I’m trying to be the fucking best. This isn’t the time to chill. It’s the time to go harder. Now the benefits of going harder seem so much easier than before when you were fighting for it. The word achievement hasn’t come to my mind. I still have so far to go.
Did you ever doubt your career as an artist because of hard-hitting times?
Things got hard but I knew. You couldn’t tell me shit. Yeah I’m broke, true. I have a degree, true. All my friends have jobs and I don’t. But I still know where I’m going to be. This is what kept me going: In my mind, I was always just one step away. Always so close even though I was actually really far. For the past three years, I’ve been thinking it was a month away. Every month. There never came a point where I thought it wasn’t. I never looked at it like I was failing. I was struggling for something I knew was coming. When you know you’re going to make it, when you know you’re destined for something and you believe in yourself, you have to keep telling yourself its coming. Or else you’ll start to doubt.
I always told myself that you didn’t have to have a strong buzz to get a deal. I’m relying strictly on my talent. The Warm Up is a chance for people who are basically going to be like “Who the fuck is this kid?” “Who did Jay-Z sign?” I’m using the mixtape as a tool for them to get the story, so they’ll know about all the work I put in. It’s the story about the kid that got cut from the team, never made it, but he doesn’t quit. He goes out the next year, maybe he gets cut again. But he doesn’t quit. He goes out the final year and he makes it. That’s what happened to me.
I always felt like I should have been signed from when I was really young. When it didn’t happen by 18, I started looking at my watch. When it didn’t happen by 21, I’m looking at my watch like, “Ok no later than 23”. I’m 24 now. I use to look at Tupac’s life and all he accomplished before he died at 25. I was 22 and wasn’t signed, 23 and wasn’t signed. When I finally realized there was no catching up to him it made me step back and say, “Yo, why would you want to catch up to him?” He lived his life and did what he was sent here to do; he did what he was destined to. I had to realize that I’m going to do what I’m destined to – there’s no time limit. Now I believe that everything truly happens at its right speed. There’s no longer a race.
A thing about fear.
My favorite basketball player, Penny Hardaway, came in the game as an incredible athlete. He was supposed to be the next Michael Jordan. He had a great career his first 4 or 5 years. I watched an interview two years ago where somebody asked him in maybe what was the second year of his career, “What’s your biggest fear?” He answered something along the lines of, my two biggest fears are that I’ll never win an NBA Championship and sometimes I have dreams where I have a career ending injury and I’m never the same player. Both those things happened to him. He basically spoke his fears into existence. Of course I have fears but I wouldn’t put them out like that or concentrate on them.
Your thoughts about his music (I’m half-way through the mix-tape now) and the interview are welcome. Racing and A thing about fear really spoke to me.
ALSO, check out this track , Just Begun, by Reflection Eternal, ft. Jay Electronica, J. Cole & Mos Def.
First off, can you give me a brief bio?
During my time in college I noticed the music industry was changing. Illegal music downloading was becoming more prevalent and as a result record labels, publishing houses, and production companies were losing money. During that time I was also managing a pop singer.
We were working with an entertainment lawyer located in New York, NY in efforts to attract major label attention. In addition to being a partner in an entertainment law firm with Britney Spears’ manager, this attorney also produced movies and owned commercial properties. I was inspired by his career path. I realized the value in diversity and decided that a law degree was an excellent path to achieving that.
After graduating from Northeastern in 2005, I immediately enrolled in law school. Three grueling years later, I graduated from Roger Williams University School of Law in 2008. I sat for and passed the New York and Massachusetts bar exams and began practicing law for a small firm in New York City. In June 2009, I founded the t-shirt company AZU Brand LLC with my two partners.
So you’re licensed in two states, but decided to start a t-shirt company?
While I am a licensed attorney in two states, I feel that the conventional practice of law will never completely fulfill me. My passion lies in creativity. During the summer of 2009, I was working full-time for a firm, but I felt like something was missing. Part of me wasn’t satisfied. In order to fill that void, I went out on a limb and took a chance by starting a company.
What was the impetus behind starting the AZU Brand? Also, what does AZU stand for?
I had been thinking about starting up a t-shirt company for about a year. Originally, the idea struck me after graduating law school and taking the bar exams, but the timing wasn’t right. I had put forth so much effort in becoming an attorney so my primary focus was to get a legal job.
After getting a legal job and working for a bit, I quickly realized that it wasn’t what I had set out to do and that I needed to follow my heart. As a result, AZU was born.
AZU literally stands for “a zoo.” Because the company uses monkeys in all of its designs, we thought it only fitting to name the company after the place that they call home.
Can you detail the process, thought-to-implementation, that has gone into developing AZU?
When I first came up with the concept behind AZU, i.e. depicting monkeys doing human things and replacing humans in pop culture icons, I discussed the idea with a good friend of mine from college. He has a strong background in business and marketing and so I wanted his opinion.
He loved the idea and immediately signed on to get this company off the ground. A few months later, he introduced me to a good friend and former colleague of his who had successfully started up several companies. and currently owns and operates his own advertising agency.
The three of us sat down together and decided to go into business, monkey business to be exact (A.J. note: cue drums!). We’ve been working hard at getting our company off the ground ever since. We decided to register with the state of Connecticut as a Limited Liability Company because we felt that it was the best avenue for us with regard to legal liability and tax considerations.
As we develop new designs, we register them with the Library of Congress for copyright protection. We have also made sure that we have an online presence. We have an in-house IT team that developed our website.
Customers can check us out online at www.azubrand.com. We also use social media forums, such as Facebook, to get the word out. Additionally, we work with several key PR people in New York City. The PR teams have been an integral part of the development of our company. Through them we set up fashion shows and other events where we showcase our shirts and network with fashion industry insiders.
Has a t-shirt company always been something you had in mind?
I have had this idea in mind for the past year, but it wasn’t something I’ve always imagined doing. I’m a dreamer, always coming up with new ideas. One day, the prospect of starting up a t-shirt company just sort of came to me. I’m definitely a creative person. I’ve always been involved in the entertainment industry, whether it be producing music, managing talent, etc. I also have a professional, corporate side.
AZU allows me to marry my legal and creative skills. I get the best of both worlds. There are the day-to-day challenges of owning and operating a business. On the other hand, there is also the challenging aspect of coming up with new and innovative designs that will appeal to our customers.
Did the economy play a role?
Although I hate to admit it, the economy did play a role in my decision to start-up AZU. Despite the fact that I was able to get a job as a lawyer, I saw many law firms laying off their employees. The idea of working for someone else was seeming less and less desirable. I knew it would take a long time to build up my own company, but the idea being in charge of my own destiny and not at the mercy of others makes it worth the risk.
Is there a difference between a passion versus a profession for you?
I’m an idealist so I believe that eventually I will reach a point where my passion is my profession and vice versa. I believe that you should wake up every morning and be happy to go to work. I want to love what I do and do it to the best of my ability.
Do you envision your primary profession being in the law? At some point would you like to transition?
As I see my life right now, I don’t know that I’ll ever practice law in the conventional sense. I will always use my legal skills, but may never be a “lawyer.” When I really think about it, I may never settle down in one career. I get bored easily and am always coming up with new ideas so I anticipate that I will probably try my hand at a few different things. Fashion, music, movies, law or some combination thereof is most likely in the cards for me.
Whatever your chosen field, networking will always be an essential. You can never do everything all on your own. You must learn to connect with others and maintain those relationships. Be prepared to rely on others and in return help others when you are in a position to do so. I pride myself in having a broad network that spans many industries. You never know where life is going to take you, so it is important to know all different types of people.
What role have mentors had in your life (again in law and fashion)?
I have all different kinds of mentors. For every sector of my life, there are people who inspire me. In my personal life, my mother is a pillar of strength and perseverance. When I think of the entertainment industry individuals, such as Oprah and Jay-Z, stand out to me.
They are as intelligent as they are talented and have risen from humble beginnings to become worldwide moguls. I love the way they have transcended the notion that a person is simply a person. They have become more that just “people,” they have become brands.
As my own career path has strayed from the traditional practice of law, I admire those such as Barack Obama, who have law degrees, but have gone on to excel in other fields by using their legal skills in non-legal arenas.
Where do you see yourself in 5, 10, and 20 years?
Again I’m a self-professed dreamer. I’m always imagining what could be. I definitely have aspirations, but I try not to limit myself by putting a time-line on my goals. I believe that doing so only sets you up for disappointment. I try to focus more on what I can do day-to-day to further my goals.
For me, the sky is the limit and the limit is the sky. I’ll get there when I get there, but for now my primary goal is to enjoy the ride. Currently, I’m focused on growing AZU into a profitable, well-known brand, but I know that I’ll always have my hands in something else as well.
My first love will always be music so I would not be surprised if I go back to that in the coming years. I could see myself managing talent, practicing entertainment law, producing music, producing movies, or writing articles/screenplays/books. I’ll just have to wait and see what the future has in store for me.
What keeps you hungry?
Small tastes of success keep me hungry. Having someone telling me that they love one of my designs makes me want to come up with five more on that level or better. Participating in a fashion show or other event makes me want to line up three more events. I’m a perfectionist and the type of person who always wants more. That type of mentality lends itself to keep striving to reach the next level.
Lastly, are you looking for models? I’m available for NY shoots.
We are always looking for models! Be prepared to bring that “Blue Steel” to the shoot!
You can reach Cara at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Brainstorming new content ideas over the weekend, I decided to add an “Interviews” section. I feel fortunate to be in the company of some incredible people, who through their actions and accomplishments both inspire me and fuel my ambition. And I’d like to share them with you.
Starting things off, Marion Brooks (of TANY Sports fame) provided the FIRST interview. He’s a great friend and an asset to my professional and social circle since I’ve come back to Austin. Expect big things from him!